The Metric of a Prophet

Out at the prison bible study we've been working through the entire bible. This night we started the book of Ezekiel. After discussing Ezekiel's vision in Chapter 1 we turned to Ezekiel's prophetic commissioning in Chapters 2 and 3:
Ezekiel 2.1-7, 3.7-9
He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.”

As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious..."

"But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate. But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.” 
The people Ezekiel is being sent to are described, over and over, as rebels. They are obstinate and stubborn. They are hard-headed. And living among them is like living with thorns and scorpions.

Hearing these descriptions the inmates perked up. The bible was describing their life.

These men knew what it was like to live with scorpions.

Consequently, they needed to be tough. Like Ezekiel needed to be tough. If the people are stubborn the prophet must be even more stubborn. If the people are hard-headed the prophet's head must be harder still.

"I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them."

When you live among scorpions you gotta be tough.

And what about the mission of the prophet? How will the prophet measure success?

In a world where the church is increasingly taken with corporate metrics of growth and success what is the metric of the prophet?

Of course, we always pray for revival. The men in the prison always pray for revival. As they should. But revival isn't what Ezekiel is promised.

Ezekiel is promised an outcome. There is one metric of success to be found in the text above.

Did you notice it?

It's found in 2.4-5:
The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. 
They may listen. They may not listen. But the one thing they will know is this:

A prophet lived among them.

That's the metric of success. That a people would remember that a prophet had lived among them.

So that's what I told the men out at the prison.

This, I said, is the only thing you can control. That when people look back at their lives they remember your words and life. They remember, perhaps from a long time ago, that they once knew a person who spoke truth to them. In a world full of thorns and scorpions they once knew a child of God. A man or a woman who spoke words of judgment and words of grace.

They remember a prophet once lived among them.

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4 thoughts on “The Metric of a Prophet”

  1. When God says that the prophet must be unyielding and stubborn as the people he or she preaches to, I see a difference, one that you point out in your last paragraph...the prophet speaks truth, judgement and grace.

    Without truth, hard and stubborn seek to control by any means "necessary"; without grace, hard and stubborn become mean, which turns judgement into a destruction of others to protect self.

    Forgive me for becoming political, but sense the political right wing and the religious right over lap so much, I do believe it is appropriate. During the sixties there was a big debate among conservatives and liberals regarding SITUATION ETHICS. Most liberals spoke of it as love determining the right action for a situation rather than a strict code; whereas conservatives said, "No", that nothing changes right and wrong as far as actions are concerned. But what I see today is a mindset among those of the Right, which states that "whatever is necessary to make sure people think and act 'righteously' is acceptable", whether it be twisting history, science and scripture, or limiting the voting power of people of color, the elderly and young people, because, as they rationalize, "it isn't fair that multiple minorities can come together to over ride the majority". Thus, we see judgement without compassion.

    The people, the common folk I witness on legitimate news clips, who speak out against these injustices are our prophets today. That is not to say that we will not some time in the future have a great prophet to rise up, one who has been blessed with gifts and the power to communicate, to move us as a society to repentance. But what I see now are store clerks, housekeepers, school teachers, health workers, and others who do not have a great name, enduring the fear, the hardness, the stubbornness and the wrath of "righteous" folk, and it is not very difficult to see where the truth, the grace and the compassionate judgement resides.

  2. One of the things I've learned from Walter Brugeggemann's work is how the two messages of the prophet--judgment and grace--are largely issues of discernment and timing.

    When we are looking at oppression and injustice the message of judgment is to be preached.

    But when we are looking at who have been abandoned and oppressed the message of grace is to be preached.

    Jesus's Blessings and Woes from Luke's Sermon on the Plain is a classic example of this:

    Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
    Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
    Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
    Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil
    because of the Son of Man.

    Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

    But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
    Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
    Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
    Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

  3. Indeed!! "Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable", as I have heard often through the years. However, I keep praying for the prophet/poet who can truly, artfully, do both at the same time to arise, embrace and be embraced by this nation.

  4. I am struck that Ezekial (and indeed, most of the prophets) prophesied to the religious insiders - the good church people of their day. During seminary, I often noticed that the self-described "prophetic" messages tended to challenge and critique those who were not in the room and not a part of the seminary community. In fact, those prophetic messages most helped their audience feel more comfortable (not less) with their own beliefs and practice.

    It is difficult to communicate hard truths to those who are your friends, colleagues, or bosses. I admire the courage of the few I know who are able to do so with both unyielding honesty and relentless graciousness.

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